Writer/director Rian Johnson goes for broke during his turn at bat in the “Star Wars” franchise, and he delivers an epic space opera with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a film that is as indebted to the previous installments and “Star Wars” canon as it is to classic Westerns, sword and sandal epics, and martial arts films. After this impressive showing, it’s no wonder producer Kathleen Kennedy has hired Johnson to make a trilogy of “Star Wars” films with a whole new cast of characters.
But first, in classic non-linear “Star Wars” fashion, “Episode VIII.” Picking up where “The Force Awakens” left off, “The Last Jedi” reunites audiences with the host of new characters we fell in love with two years ago. Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and BB-8 are back, still fighting in the Resistance against the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and prodigal Solo son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Our heroes are scattered to the wind, as Rey has been dispatched to an isolated planet to recruit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to the cause, while hotshot flyboy Poe tangles with the pecking order of Resistance leadership. Finn and a new ally, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), have their own secret mission they’re undertaking to protect the Resistance fighters who are being chased all over the galaxy by the First Order.
“The Last Jedi” is a sweeping and grandiose film, and also, far funnier than possibly any other “Star Wars” film has attempted to be. Johnson pitches the tone just right, with actual jokes and visual gags peppered amongst the stunning action set pieces, as well as earnest and emotionally moving moments of heroism and self-sacrifice.
Johnson leaves it all on the screen — everything you could want and more from a “Star Wars” film can be found in “The Last Jedi”. There are cute and mysterious creatures (don’t try to resist the porgs, the porgs will rule us all), gripping action sequences and fight choreography, a wacky party scene, spiritual discussions of the Force and what it means to be a Jedi, and most importantly, a group of heroes who know they will persevere if they save what they love, not destroy what they hate.
That desire to do it all and more in “The Last Jedi” does come with its drawbacks. Thankfully, the pace never lets up, with masterful editing by Bruce Ducsay, hopping nimbly from spaceship to planet and back again as we follow our space heroes dispersed among the stars. But “The Last Jedi” is overstuffed with plot — by the time the last showdown happens, it feels like a set piece that should have been saved for the next film, as visually intoxicating and eye-popping as it is. At a whopping two hours and 32 minutes, “The Last Jedi” overstays its welcome just a tad.
For the fresh, unique visual style and lovable new characters of “The Last Jedi,” this is a film that ultimately pays beautiful tribute to the people who first made us fall in love with “Star Wars” — Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. Hamill is at a career best as the legendary Jedi Luke, stealing the film, while Leia’s journey receives a fitting finale. It’s the blend of reverence for its roots and embrace of the new that makes “The Last Jedi” a triumph.
‘STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI’
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran.
Directed by Rian Johnson.
Running time: 2 hours, 32 minutes.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.